Topic: Army Rations
Iron Rations for Troops (US Army, 1895)
Emergency Diet for United States Soldiers
Independent of Supply Trains
Carrying His Own "Grub"—Foods Condensed by Evaporation—But tons of Coffee and Tea—Concentrated Loaves of Bread, and Soups in Cigarette Packs—The Kola Nut for Military Purposes
Hartford Weekly Times, 24 October 1895
Within a few weeks from now United States soldiers will be provided for the first time with an "iron ration." The boards appointed to consider the question of emergency foods, representing the various departments of the army, are sending in their reports, upon which final conclusions will be based. Problem: To make up a food package of small bulk, which shall render the fighting man independent of supply trains for a short period, in case of an exigency such as might arise from his being wounded or cut off with a detachment from the main command.
"Experiments in this line are being made by all the great powers," said Major Woodruff at the War Department yesterday. "They are trying everything imaginable for the purpose. Here, for example, is an element of the British emergency ration. It looks like a dog biscuit, doesn't it? Three ounces it weighs, and it is four inches square. It is composed simply of whole wheat solidly compressed. A condensed loaf of bread you may call it. The French have a new ‘war bread,' which is to replace hard tack for the use of their army. Its ingredients and the processes for making it are a secret. When a piece of it is put into hot water or soup, it swells up like a sponge, and it is said to be virtually the same as fresh bread.
"In future wars the utmost efforts will be made to furnish the troops with fresh articles of dier in the field. Dried foods are only suitable for emergency foods. Germany and France, by the help of cold storage, have perfected arrangements for shipping fresh beef to the front by rail. When practicable, fresh bread will be forwarded daily to the fighting line. This was done from Washington to the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. The French government has constructed a number of bakeries on wheels for use in campaigns—wagons, that is to say, containing ovens and all necessary appliances, so that bread may be made on the march.
"For emergency rations, evaporated vegetables have been tried, but not with great success. They are not nutritious enough, and they do not keep well. Here is a one-pound can of evaporated onions. Smells strong, doesn't it? It ought to, inasmuch as it represents ten pounds of fresh onions. In the same way potatoes, carrots, turnips and cabbages are put up. Desiccated foods are now being produced on an enormous scale by many firms in this country and abroad. A good thing which we may adopt if this desiccated beef. One ounce of it is equal to five ounces of ordinary meat, because it is absolutely water-free. It is too hard to cut with a knife without trouble, and so the soldier chops off a small hunk of it. He puts the piece into a little machine like a coffee mill and grinds it up. It comes out in fine shavings, ready to be eaten on bread or to be used for soup stock.
"Beef-tea, used as a stimulant, is a good thing for soldiers. For an emergency ration, it is put up in capsules, one of which makes a cup. Each capsule contains the necessary seasoning and costs two cents. Beef-tea contains almost no nutriment, but only the flavoring and stimulating qualities of the meat. When a person is informed that a teaspoonful of extract represents several pounds of beef, he infers that it is equally nourishing. The truth is that the nourishment is left behind in the boiler. A human being will starve to death on an unlimited supply of beef-tea. The most important element of the British iron ration is pemmican—a preparation of beef, fat and salt. Its manufacture is a secret. It is put up in tin cans of four ounces, equal to one pound of meat, and is eaten without further cooking. However, it may be made into a hash or soup by boiling it with vegetables. It keep sound for years, though exposed to air. With the pemmican goes a can of the same size, containing a mixture of cocoa and honey.
"It is certain that canned foods will play an important part in future wars. The Belgian iron ration is a ten-ounce cut of corned beef put up in a liquor that is flavored with vegetables. The German emergency ration is a one-pound can of preserved meat, with hard bread and pea sausage. A biscuit composed of meat and flour has been tried for the German army, but the soldiers would not eat it. The biscuit was supposed to furnish the fighting man with everything that was necessary for his physical support, water excepted. To be satisfactory, a ration must be palatable as well as wholesome and nutritious. A dietary for troops cannot be settled on a basis of theory alone; it must be tested in practice. What will satisfy soldiers of one nation may not suit those of another.
"Very likely, United States soldiers would not put up with the German ‘erbswurst.' Yet that species of pea sausage is said to have been a leading cause of the success of the German arms in the Franco-Prussian war. Without it the troops could not have endured the fatigues to which they were subjected. The sausage is made pf pea-meal, fat and bacon. It was devised by a German cook, from whom the invention was purchased by the government for $25,000. The secret lies in the method of preparation by which the article is rendered proof against decay. It was first used on a large scale by the second army under Prince Frederick Charles. A factory established at Berlin put up enormous quantities of these sausages and other preserved meats, furnishing to the troops 40,000,000 rations. Each sausage is eight inches long, and makes twelve plates of nutritious soup. There could hardly be a better emergency ration.
"Among other things under consideration by our own War Department are condensed soups. This little packet, which looks somewhat like a bundle of cigarettes, contains just three ounces of desiccated pea soup. You observe, it is so compressed as to be quite hard. I break it up and throw it into this saucepan. To it I add one quart of water, and I place it on the gas stove here to boil. For flavoring, though it is not necessary, let us add a small quantity of these evaporated onions. In the course of fifteen minutes I will offer you a plate of every excellent pea soup. Soups, you understand, are most useful in rations. For health it is not sufficient to put a certain amount of nutriment into the body; the stomach must be distended. Soup does that. Incidentally, the soldier who consumes one of these rations absorbs one quart of sterilized water.
"Condensed soups may be purchased in tablets three inches square and half an inch thick. Each tablet weighs four ounces, and makes six plates of soup. In food value one tablet is equal to one and three-quarters pounds of potatoes. Bean, mock-turtle, green-corn, barley and potato soups are desiccated in this form. Tomato, vegetable, and fish chowder soups are similarly prepared. What do you suppose this is? It looks like a button, doesn't it? It is a cup of tea condensed. All you have to do is drip it into a cup of hot water and stir it up. The sweetening is in the bottom with the tea. No, the sweetening is not sugar, but a coal-tar product called ‘saccharine,' which is more than 200 times as sweet as sugar. Thus the quantity added needs to be very small. Coffee is put up in the same way, with saccharine, as well as in a shape that looks like black molasses.
"An iron ration is a short-weight and highly concentrated diet intended to cover only a brief period. It is not to be used except when the regular food supply cannot be obtained. Supposing the army supplies to be regularly furnished, the fighting man ought to return from the campaign carrying in his haversack the same emergency ration with which he started our originally. But it may happen that his regiment or brigade is cut off from the main body, and in that case the emergency rations may be literal salvation. Or he may be left wounded on a field of battle, unable to obtain anything to eat for days, unless he has it with him. During the recent war with China the Japanese found emergency rations a necessity of active service. An army, or a large part of it, may be thrown rapidly forward to hold a position and it takes a week or or more to make roads so as to get supplies to the front. This very thing occurred at Vicksburg, where for lack of emergency rations, Grant's men suffered severely from hunger.
"No army in the world is so well supplied with food as ours. During the Civil War the management of the Union commissariat was a model, On one occasion president Lincoln said to the commissary general of the army: ‘I rarely hear of your department. It works like a well-regulated stomach, so that one scarcely knows one has it.' It is high time then, that our troops should be provided with emergency rations. One of the questions to be decided is whether the ration shall be carried at the belt or in the haversack. Three days' allowance, weighing two and a half pounds, may be packed conveniently in a sealed tin and attached to the belt. The tin is readily opened with the finger and serves as a cooking utensil. A typical iron ration for one day would consist of five ounces of oatmeal, a tablet of coffee, a quarter ounce of salt, and a five-ounce soup tablet composed of dried beef, pea meal, potatoes and suet.
"Soldiers suffering from hunger may be supplied with small quantities of alum, a pinch of which taken from time to time contracts the stomach. Thus the organ, not requiring so much to fill it, can get along with less than the normal diet for a while without complaining. A trouble about condensed foods is that soldiers are apt to eat too much of them, not realizing their concentration. I have known men to devour a quantity of compressed wheat-cake and then drink a lot of water, the result being very distressing. Foods may be arranged for a field ration so that the fighting man will have the exact amounts of all the elements required for the support of life, and yet certain things will be missing whose absence brings disease and death. A percentage of indigestible matter is necessary for the digestive organs to work upon. If the concentrated food be a powder or a liquid, no solids being furnished, a law is violated. There is no chewing, and without mastication saliva, which is one of the most important digestive fluids, is not secreted and poured into the stomach. A human being ordinarily will secrete from a quart to three pints of saliva, mostly at meal-times, in twenty-four hours. The soldier fed on liquids only will suffer from diarrhea and colic.
"Stimulants are necessary to soldiers. They keep up their cheerfulness and enable them to endure fatigue and privations. Depressed troops do not fight well. Accordingly, tea and coffee are included in emergency rations. It seems not unlikely that the kola nut may be used for military purposes, on account of its wonderful power as a stimulant, reviving the exhausted, mitigating hunger and thirst, and enabling men to do much more work. It acts in an exaggerated manner like tea of coffee, without producing any subsequent reaction or bad effects. South American Indians use the cocoa leaf for this purpose on long marches without food across the pampas; but the cocoa is dangerous. The kola is equally efficient and is harmless. Already experiments have been made in the French army with so-called accelerating rations, composed of kola nuts, flour and sugar in cakes. But they proved a failure because they were made from worthless dried nuts
"The kola nut, to be worth anything, must be fresh. Before long, doubtless, it will be a common commercial article. It is successfully cultivated in the West Indies and along the adjacent shores of South and Central America, where it is consumed in immense quantities, almost replacing teas, coffee and alcohol. It is the fruit of a large tree, and is about as big as a horse-chestnut, growing in pods of three to eleven nuts in a pod. Undoubtedly the tree would grow in southern California, and very likely it might be cultivated in the Gulf states. Chewing the nut stimulates the brain and acts as a tonic on the muscles. Its peculiar action is due to a specific alkaloid called ‘kolanin,' which has not yet been isolated in a pure state. In military life the use of the kola would be limited to rare occasions, as in forced marches or just before a battle. If two equal armies face each other, and one, by help of the kola, can do one-tenth more than the other, it will be successful, other things being equal. For, if there are 250,000 men engaged on each side, the effect will be the same as a reinforcement of 25,000 men."